One year ago, Randy Arozarena was a rookie reserve player on the St. Louis Cardinals, and now the outfielder is the ALCS MVP and looking to lead the Tampa Bay Rays to their first ever World Series Championship. This second-year player, who is still technically a rookie by MLB standards, has risen to stardom at an astonishingly rapid pace.
Arozarena has only played in 42 official regular season games, while participating in 19 postseason games, meaning that over 31% of the games he has played in the show have been on the biggest stage. The experience may be lacking, but the charisma that he brings is undeniable. At only twenty-five years old, the left fielder from Cuba was able to dominate the Toronto Blue Jays in the wild card round, take over the New York Yankees in the division series, and solidify his viability against the Houston Astros in the championship series.
With such minimal MLB experience, nobody expected Arozarena to make the impact that he did. Most number one seeded teams have an All-Star or experienced hitter batting third for them, but the Rays chose a player with less than half a full season under his belt. Arozarena was able to ascend up the depth charts and earn his spot at the top of the lineup. Called up at the end of August, he barely had any time to get into any sort of hitters’ groove, only obtaining 76 plate appearances before the postseason started.
The outfielder hit a decent .281 during this short span, but what was eye-popping about this kid was his pop. In such a brief regular season, Arozarena was able to blast seven home runs in the regular season, hitting one long ball every 9.1 at bats. That incredible rate would amount to 60+ home runs in a full 162 game season. Every player is told to lift the ball in today’s game, but this type of power is truly extraordinary, not to mention unforeseen.
In three full minor league seasons, Arozarena never even reached the 20-home run plateau, and when you combine his regular season and postseason numbers this year, it totals to 14 balls hit over the fence. He has been burning hot with the bat, playing at a superhuman level.
It is not just the fantastic numbers that Arozarena has been able to put up this postseason, but the timeliness of the hits. There are many good hitters around Major League Baseball, but the ability to come through in the big moments is what separates the men from the boys. Hitting in the clutch is vital during the playoffs and Arozarena has been able to come through on multiple occasions in 2020. For each series this postseason, Arozarena has had his moment to shine and delivered.
In the wild card series, he had a three-hit performance in game two to help Tampa Bay secure the sweep over Toronto. Arozarena hit .500 in the brief two-game series. During the five-game battle with New York, he hit .421 with three home runs. He drove one out of the park in each of the first three games of the series to give the Rays an early 2-1 series lead, while their pitching helped finish off the Yankees in Game 5.
The championship series with the Astros was nearly historic for the Rays, and not to their liking. Tampa Bay took the early 3-0 series lead before Houston stormed back to win the next three games. However, Game 7 was the true test for Tampa Bay, trying to avoid becoming the second team in MLB history to blow a 3-0 lead. Arozarena made sure that the Rays would not falter, hitting a two-run home run right out of the gate. Striking first is always great for a team’s momentum and this postseason stud helped stimulate the Rays offense early, hitting three of his seven postseason home runs in the first inning.
Arozarena has hit .382 this postseason with 11 extra base hits and a staggering 1.288 OPS. He has commanded the batter’s box, crushing any pitcher that dares to throw him a strike. The caliber of the pitcher has not mattered for Arozarena, whether it be Cy Young candidate or flame throwing reliever, he has demolished the ball off of everyone.
Arozarena has the clutch gene in his DNA, with five of his seven postseason home runs being game tying or go-ahead. He has been the best Rays hitter by a landslide, leading the team in most offensive categories this postseason and essentially carrying them to the World Series with his bat. This prospect is very reminiscent of a young Evan Longoria.
The former Rays third baseman was a member of the team for a decade, and was not only a great hitter, but a great leader in the clubhouse. Longoria was there in 2008 when Tampa Bay made their last World Series appearance, and was instrumental during that team’s playoff run. His love for the game and all-out attitude towards baseball mirrors that of Arozarena.
Every time the emphatic outfielder has done something sensational this postseason, he has displayed it through his emotions. Flipping his bat, staring down the pitcher, and pumping up his team. Arozarena loves the game of baseball, and that joy for the game really brings baseball back to its roots.
The sport is meant to be played for fun and enjoyment, not just for a paycheck. Too many major leaguers forgot that. Arozarena is still trying to earn his keep and right now he is just playing his heart out. He may be inexperienced, but he has grit. He plays for the thrill, the competition, and most importantly, to win. Only one more step for Arozarena and the Rays, and they will become champions.